Amnesty ‘regrets pain’ caused by Ukraine report as criticism continues

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The furore over Amnesty International’s report accusing Kyiv of endangering civilians continued on Monday, drawing angry reactions from Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats.

The report also sparked fears it would serve as a further justification for Moscow in its increased bombardment of civilian targets in recent weeks.

On Sunday, the rights group said it regrets the pain caused by the report, which infuriated President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and triggered the resignation of its Kyiv office head.

In the meantime, the Russian Mission in Geneva tweeted that if a civilian building “is used for military purposes, it turns into a legitimate target for a precision strike”, sparking further reactions against the report.

The rights group published the report on Thursday, saying the presence of Ukrainian troops in residential areas heightened risks to civilians during Russia’s invasion.

“Amnesty International deeply regrets the distress and anger that our press release on the Ukrainian military’s fighting tactics has caused,” the group said.

“Amnesty International’s priority in this and in any conflict is ensuring that civilians are protected. Indeed, this was our sole objective when releasing this latest piece of research. While we fully stand by our findings, we regret the pain caused.”

Zelenskyy accused the group of trying to shift responsibility from Russian aggression, while Amnesty’s Ukraine head Oksana Pokalchuk quit saying the report was a propaganda gift for Moscow. 

Russia has repeatedly justified attacks on civilian areas by alleging that Ukrainian fighters had set up firing positions at the targeted locations.

Pokalchuk said her office had asked the organisation’s leadership to give the Ukrainian Defence Ministry adequate time to respond to the report’s findings and argued that its failure to do so would further Kremlin’s misinformation and propaganda efforts.

Ukrainian officials say they are trying to evacuate civilians from front-line areas. 

The United Nations also reacted to Amnesty International’s report, with the secretary-general’s spokesperson stating that the international organisation has repeatedly insisted that the civilians in Ukraine are protected.

“Throughout this war, the Secretary-General’s message has been clear. We always have and will continue to call for the protection of civilians,” spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

In its statement, Amnesty said it had found Ukrainian forces next to civilian residences in 19 towns and villages it visited, exposing them to the risk of incoming Russian fire.

“This does not mean that Amnesty International holds Ukrainian forces responsible for violations committed by Russian forces, nor that the Ukrainian military is not taking adequate precautions elsewhere in the country,” it said.

“We must be very clear: Nothing we documented Ukrainian forces doing in any way justifies Russian violations.”